John M. Stahl

Active - 1918 - 1949  |   Born - Jan 21, 1886   |   Died - Jan 12, 1950   |   Genres - Drama, Romance, Comedy

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Biography by AllMovie

After a cursory public school education, 16-year-old John Stahl became a stage actor. Entering films as a bit player in 1913, he was hired by Vitagraph's Brooklyn studio as a director one year later. Most of his work under the Vitagraph banner has been lost to the ages, though it has been confirmed that he directed a series of historical shorts under the umbrella title The Lincoln Cycle. In 1917, he moved to the New York studios of producer Louis B. Mayer, and a few years later was on the ground floor when Mayer's operation was absorbed into the new Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios. After several years as an MGM director, he became vice president and "directional producer" of his own company, Tiffany-Stahl, in 1927. When talkies arrived, he sold his interest in Tiffany-Stahl to sign with Universal. His major works at this studio included such theatrical and literary derivations as Strictly Dishonorable (1931), Back Street (1932), Imitation of Life (1934), and Magnificent Obsession (1935). It was during this period that Stahl developed his directorial "signature": a deft blend of sentimentality, hothouse melodrama, and baroque romanticism, with emphasis on strong, self-reliant female characters. His career suffered a setback in 1936 when he produced and directed MGM's Parnell, notorious as Clark Gable's worst and least successful starring feature. Stahl bounced back in 1938 with another producer/director gig, A Letter of Introduction, wherein he successfully melded such highly individualized stars as Adolphe Menjou, Andrea Leeds, and Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Freelancing during the early '40s, he moved to 20th Century Fox in 1943, where for the next six years he turned out such solid box-office attractions as Keys to the Kingdom (1943) and the classic "I love you to death" soaper Leave Her to Heaven. He retired in 1949, and died one year later. In his heyday, John Stahl was a major influence on those directors specializing in what were then called "women's pictures": None, apparently, were more influenced than the equally skilled Douglas Sirk, who during the 1950s and early '60s, directed remakes of three of Stahl's most popular films: Magnificent Obsession (1956), Interlude (the 1957 remake of 1939's When Tomorrow Comes), and Imitation of Life (1959).

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